So it seems Martin Scorsese can do just about anything. When I say this, I mean that the man behind some of the greatest films of all time (along with some of the most violent) has now mastered the 3D family-adventure genre on his first try at the age of 69. Not only a beautiful love-letter to the art of film, Hugo is a dazzling spectacle told with elegance and grace from its master storyteller.
The film opens with an astonishing shot. Scorsese sweeps the camera down into the streets of 1930's Paris, crossing into a train station and through the station's large mechanical clock. Inside the clock is a young orphaned boy, staring into the commotion of human travel. His name is Hugo (played by Asa Butterfield) and he runs the clock. He also fixes other gadgets as he learned to from his father and uncle. After his father's tragic death, Hugo has nothing left of him but an automaton that doesn't work. He tries desperately to fix it, but struggles to find its heart-shaped key.
You could say on paper that the film is about Hugo trying to fix the automaton to discover the mystery he's been searching for since his father's death, but there's way more to it than that. On his adventure, he meets a cranky old man named Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley) and his god-daughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). Hugo and Isabelle bond over their fascination into discovering the automaton's mystery, while Georges is a sad creature, who bosses Hugo around after he accuses him of stealing from his shop at the train station. As the story progresses, we learn that they all have a connection to Hugo's father and the automaton, which unlocks Georges memory of his importance to cinema's history.
How ironic that a tale about the significance of film preservation is also a film worthy of its very subject? Hugo startles the emotions and dazzles the senses. The 3D is so well executed and the performances are so rich that when we see Ben Kingsley give the film's climatic speech, it's as though he is only speaking to you and no one else. Scorsese, working once again with his editor Thelma Shoonmaker, creates a world so vivid and warm-hearted, I dare you not to fall for its charm.
One finally note: for the first time since Avatar, I can safely say that 3D makes a movie better. See Hugo in 3D, and let Scorsese take care of the rest.